Though presidential autobiographies are now commonplace—and seemingly a necessity for even considering a run for the presidency—they used to be an exceptional and rare window into the presidency. Transporting readers back through history, these presidential accounts retell the trials and triumphs of the country, as seen from the highest office in the land.
With the explosion of presidential autobiographies in recent decades, it is now much easier to gain insight into the lives of the United States's most notable leaders. In fact, one of 2020's most anticipated books is former President Obama's upcoming autobiography, A Promised Land. These books give readers a chance to get inside the minds of those who have led our nation into, through, and out of crises throughout our history.
As the presidential election is upon us, now is the perfect time to look back through some of the best presidential autobiographies from 1865 to the 21st century. Cast your vote, then cast your mind back to presidents of the past.
The Complete Papers and Writings of Abraham Lincoln
With materials drawn from his time as a lawyer, politician, and president, The Complete Papers and Writings of Abraham Lincoln offer an evolving portrait of Abraham Lincoln. President during one of the most harrowing periods in United States history, Lincoln's words spoke to the problems the country faced during the Civil War and Reconstruction. His writings and speeches were powerful at the time and still ring true today. Including some of his most famous speeches, like Emancipation Proclamation and the Gettysburg Address, alongside his personal correspondence, this collection offers a full look into President Lincoln.
Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant
A United States president and prominent military general, Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant follows Grant’s extensive time in the military. First chronicling his experiences in the Mexican-American War, Grant explains his formative experiences with battle that shaped him as a person and as a general. Grant goes on to recount the many of the most pivotal battles of the Civil War. Rising up the ranks of the Union Army, Grant describes battles from Vicksburg to Appomattox with rich detail, a unique perspective, and personal insights. From a man defined by his military experience, Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant provides a must read account of the Civil War from one of its most knowledgeable generals.
A larger than life figure, Theodore Roosevelt became one of the United States' most memorable presidents. He was known for everything from leading the Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War, to winning the Nobel Peace Prize for bringing the Russo-Japanese War to a close. His presidency was defined by his anti-trust policies in pursuit of a "square deal" for American citizens and his involvement in Latin American affairs. Leading the United States at the turn of the century, Theodore Roosevelt's autobiography offers a glimpse into the adventurous and daring leader that shaped the country well into the 1900s.
Autobiography of Calvin Coolidge
Known as a quiet and serious man, Calvin Coolidge (or “Silent Cal”) had a reputation for deliberative action and honest integrity. His autobiography spans his upbringing in Vermont, his time spent in Massachusetts state politics, and his presidency in Washington D.C. Leading the nation during the 1920s, Coolidge witnessed a push for social progress and the start of an economic boom in his time in office. Revealing his personal struggles and triumphs, his autobiography gives voice to a man so often known for his silence.
The Memoirs of Herbert Hoover - The Great Depression, 1929-1941
The final of three volumes of Hoover's memoirs, The Memoirs of Herbert Hoover - The Great Depression, 1929-1941 speaks to the challenges the country faced during the Great Depression. Leading the country through one of its worst economic collapses, Hoover reflects on the progression of hardships the country experienced and his attempts to avert disaster. Closing with a summary of the period, this autobiography provides unique insight into the Great Depression from the man tasked with stopping it.
The Letters of John F. Kennedy
A president full of youth and hope, John F. Kennedy brought energy to America with his ambitious goals. This collection of letters shares his correspondence with notable figures, that include Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., John Wayne, Eleanor Roosevelt and Nikita Khrushchev, among others. In addition to letters with ordinary Americans, The Letters of John F. Kennedy comes complete with photographs and contextual information.
In The Arena
Written after his earlier books, Nixon reflects on his whole political career, including his fall from grace and 1974 resignation in In the Arena: A Memoir of Victory, Defeat, and Renewal. Laying bare his personal thoughts, Nixon speaks about his family, his political ideas, and his scandalous final months in office. Looking forward after the conclusion of his presidency, Nixon also shares his views on the state of affairs facing the world in the coming decades.
A Full Life
Looking back over the course of his life, President Jimmy Carter recounts everything from his upbringing in rural Georgia, to his near death experiences on naval submarines, to his thoughts on politics. He talks about his early years as well as the life he built for himself since leaving office. Discussing those who influenced him and his decisions, Carter reflects on his proudest accomplishments and biggest regrets in life. Speaking honestly and humbly, Carter shares the stories and wisdom he has picked up over the course of 90 years.
An American Life
From a boy in Illinois, to an actor in Hollywood, to the president of the United States, Ronald Reagan followed a path to the presidency unlike any other. In his unique story, Reagan recounts everything from meeting his wife Nancy, to working toward compromises with his rival Mikhail Gorbachev. Giving a behind the scenes look into all of the most notable moments of his life and presidency, Reagan shares the experiences that shaped him.
Sharing his life and illuminating the daily ins and outs of being president, Bill Clinton’s My Life is compelling on multiple fronts. It includes accounts of his upbringing in Arkansas, his 1992 campaign, his work toward peace in the Middle East, and his scandalous impeachment that led to such enormous personal and public fallout. Revealing the intricacies, the contradictions, and the moments most fundamental to his life, Clinton’s autobiography is a riveting read.
Sharing his assessment of his time in office, George Bush looks back on the decisions he made. He recounts issues that remain controversial, like his handling of Hurricane Katrina, his decision to send troops to Iraq, and his administration’s support of enhanced interrogation techniques. Recounting many of the highly debated issues of his presidency, George Bush reveals the decisions that kept him up at night, what he regrets to this day, and what still brings him pride. Decision Points is an honest and open glimpse in the first presidency of the twenty-first century.
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